This Time, The Mission is the Message

By Deb Castellana

Key Largo, Florida

Deb at Aquarius Habitat (c)KipEvans/Mission Blue

As Mission Aquarius, a celebration of 50 years under the sea, winds to a close, the Mission Blue team in Florida is filled with hope for the future of Aquarius. Dr. Sylvia Earle, her team of Aquanauts and everyone working to support and highlight the mission pulled together into a cohesive team that has made a clear statement to the world – Aquarius must be saved.

With One World One Ocean in the lead, a winning group of talented ocean media professionals converged on Key Largo, Florida this week to call attention to the imminent loss of funding for the world’s last remaining undersea laboratory. Utilizing IMAX film, live webcasts from both inside the habitat and from the seabed, social media and mainstream news networks, teams worked 24/7 to highlight both the past achievements of Aquarius, and it’s possibilities for the future. The live U Stream feed typically had 200-400 viewers at any given time.

Fabien Cousteau visited Aquarius for his first time early in the week. The grandson of Jacques and son of Jean-Michel Cousteau, Fabien has known Sylvia Earle since he was 3 years old.  And growing up on the decks of Calypso & Halcyon, saving the ocean is in his blood. His cozy one-on-one chat with Sylvia was touchingly personal, yet far reaching as they discussed both the degradation of the world ocean and the possibilities for improving it’s health in the future.

Fabien Cousteau with Handcuffs (c) Deb Castellana

Topside, with his typical irreverent sense of humor, Cousteau jokingly plotted to handcuff himself to Aquarius in protest of it’s closing.  He could see the headlines, “Cousteau handcuffs himself to Aquarius underwater habitat to protest closing!”

His intimate visit inside Aquarius with Sylvia was filled with nostalgia. “I follow in your fin steps and my grandfather’s,” he said, “in being more comfortable in the sea than on land.” How to bring that type of ocean consciousness to the general public is a dilemma. How can those who have never gone beneath the waves, truly care for something they’ve never seen? We hope that through the efforts of this talented group of filmmakers, journalists, and photographers, enough attention will be focused on the ocean to begin to bridge that gap.

Embedded ocean journalist and former Gizmodo Editorial Director, Brian Lam contributed his young, hip take to the mission. Earlier this year, when he Interviewed Sylvia for a New York Times article on home made subs, Brian’s epiphany about the state of the world’s oceans was evident. His touching follow-up piece, “A Heartbreaking Interview with Dr. Sylvia Earle,” went viral. Brian’s deep commitment to using his considerable talents towards saving the ocean continues to grow, and his contribution to the Aquarius mission has been outstanding.

With digital media being shared on every platform from cell phones to IMAX screens, we hope that the public, and our leaders in Washington will hear the message to save Aquarius loud and clear. The photographic talents of the crew from One World One Ocean, Liquid Pictures’ Aquanaut DJ Roller, and our own Kip Evans have created a bank of rich content that is being shared worldwide.

Kip Evans & Brian Lam (c) Deb Castellana

Like an ocean wave closing in on the shore, news of Mission Aquarius grew as the week progressed.  When the AP story hit the wires on Thursday, news of Aquarius’ plight hit newspapers coast to coast. NPR had two pieces during the week, including Science Friday with Ira Flatow. Nightline anchor Bob Weir dove to Aquarius to interview the aquanauts both inside and outside of the habitat. Sylvia’s TED wish to spread the news by all means possible that our ocean is in trouble has never been better served.

Culminating with a gala fundraising event at the Museum of Diving History in Islamorada, we have increasing hope that Aquarius will be saved. Certainly millions of people have now heard about the imminent closure due to budget cuts. Even with today’s difficult economy, the $3 million that it takes to operate Aquarius annually seems like a goal that should be easy to reach. Given the return on investment that Aquarius will provide, it seems a tiny amount.

No article about Aquarius would be complete without a shout-out to the team at Aquarius Reef Base. It has been a pleasure to spend this week working alongside the NURC team – each member bringing a consummate professionalism and a great deal of heart to the table, keeping the aquanauts and those of us working around the lab safe and comfortable. Mission Aquarius has been a resounding success due to the hard work of this incredibly dedicated and skilled team. We hope that we’ve been able to focus the necessary attention on Aquarius to bring in the funds needed to keep her and this amazing group of submariners up and running for a very long time into the future.

Aquarius Team (c) Deb Castellana

Originally posted at: MISSION BLUE

Mission Aquarius, Celebrating 50 years of Ocean Exploration

Point Richmond, CA
By Deb Castellana

Followers of Planet Ocean News may have noticed that the page has gone dark these past few months as I have come up to speed in my new position as Director of Communications for Dr. Sylvia Earle’s ‘Mission Blue.’  Now I am looking forward to posting more often with some exciting, and always thought provoking content.  First up, Mission Aquarius!

(c) Brian Skerry

Training begins tomorrow off the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, for Mission Aquarius, ‘Celebrating 50 years of Living Beneath the Sea.’  The mission seeks to highlight not only the achievements of Aquarius, but also its tenuous future in today’s uncertain economic and political climate.

A question for you. Have you ever heard of Aquarius Reef Base? Don’t feel badly if you haven’t. Somehow this incredible feat of underwater engineering has largely escaped the public eye for the all the years that it has been in operation.

Since 1993, the Aquarius undersea lab has supported 114 missions, with over 550 peer-reviewed scientific publications produced, numerous educational programs, and television pieces. NASA has participated in a number of programs to research everything from the psychological effects of living in close quarters to mining asteroids (see NASA/NEEMO Website here). The Aquarius Reef Base is also supporting one of the longest running and thorough coral reef monitoring programs in the world, critical given current ocean stressors such as climate change and ocean acidification.

Aquarius has provided the world’s leading marine scientists with the opportunity to live aboard and engage in complicated research projects that could only have been carried out from saturation diving. By living and working on the seafloor for an extended period of time (up to 10 days,) scientists are able to comprehensively and intimately study and document the coral reef ecosystem.

Says Dr. Sylvia Earle, who now embarks on her third saturation dive with Aquarius, “Being able to study the animals and plants in their home using an underwater habitat gives me the gift of time,” Earle said in a mission summary. “Time to see what these magnificent life forms are actually doing on the reef.”

A cohesive partnership has formed between Mission Blue, One World One Ocean,  Google, The Aquarius Foundation, NOAA, UNCW (The University of North Carolina at Wilmington,) National Geographic, and Reef Base Aquarius and the collaboration promises to be a powerful force bringing public attention to the achievements of Aquarius as well as to what may be lost if this should be the last mission.

The media teams will be transmitting across multiple platforms from Mission Aquarius through live feeds, social networks, feature articles, as well as mainstream media.  Dr. Earle and Principal Investigator Mark Patterson will speak live with students from Williams and Mary College, there will be a live feed with Chautauqua Institution, a Google + Hangout, and possibly even a call-in with Ira Flatow’s always entertaining and fascinating NPR show, ‘Science Friday.’ We’ll keep you posted.

One World One Ocean will be on site with IMAX cameras, and DJ Roller of Liquid Pictures 3D will be shooting in 3D. Yours truly will be there with my trusty Go Pro.

We hope that you will help us to maximize this educational and outreach effort, and to use this rare opportunity to increase ocean literacy. So tweet it, facebook it, and e-mail our news if you can. The ocean would thank you if she could!

Much more content on Mission Aquarius is on it’s way, so stay tuned!

Howard Hall’s Blue Ocean

This holiday season, I’d like to share a video by Howard Hall that epitomizes why we love the ocean so… and why we dive.  The blue whale swim by is one of the most amazing pieces of film I’ve ever seen. Here’s raising a glass to working hard to save our ocean planet and the amazing creatures who share it with us.

Happy Holidays to all!

Diving in The Gardens of the Queen

Anderson Cooper takes viewers on an underwater adventure to one of the world’s most vibrant coral reefs, an anomaly at a time when many of the world’s reefs are in danger – or already dead. He talks to Cuban marine conservationists who show how protecting The Gardens of the Queen reef from fishing and pollution has resulted in an almost perfectly healthy reef.  Seeing these abundant reefs gives this diver hope that a network of Marine Protected Areas worldwide can eventually bring back what we’ve lost.

Click HERE to view the entire video feature!